Monday, April 7, 2014

Movies February-March 2014

This time I'm using the term HIGHEST QUALITY instead of BEST because we saw a very well made movie (The Paperboy) featuring some superb performances, but it's a creepy, disturbing movie whose existence I question and I'm not comfortable saying it was one of the "best" movies I saw.


HIGHEST QUALITY

Rust and Bone. Highly recommended, due to stellar performances by Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts. It's about an unlikely relationship between an orca trainer and a boxer with a young son and anger issues. Hard to watch at times, especially when he's with his son, but the human moments are true, and there's a touching phone scene near the end that I haven't been able to forget. (Paul's comment: Thoroughly believable performances.)

The Paperboy. Why does someone write a story like this, and why does someone make a movie out of it? Redeeming character qualities are in short supply, and I don't see anything useful to be learned from the story. I've never seen John Cusack in this type of role before, and I'm impressed by his range. Nicole Kidman's performance is astounding but I'm not surprised as I've seen her range before. Matthew McConaughey's character didn't seem to hang together very well. Zac Ephron did a respectable job of the least interesting character. Macy Gray did a fantastic job with a difficult character; her dialogue at the beginning of the film is confusing, which is unworthy of her character. (Paul's comment: These people are so scuzzy, you'll want to take a shower afterward.)

Gravity. Fun to watch, suspenseful, I wished mostly for more chances to see shots of earth. I'm not sure what else to says. Another film in which George Clooney seems to be just going through the motions and in which I never forgot Sandra Bullock was Sandra Bullock. I'm not sure why the filmmakers decided that when a human body encounters the vacuum of space nothing more exciting than freezing happens. (Paul's comment: The tension is well developed, and the special effects are truly spectacular.)

Suor Angelica. I'd seen one other filmed production of Puccini's Il Trittico, which consists of three one-act operas, and both have been mesmerizing because of the beauty of the music and the power of the story of a woman forced to give up her child. This one starred Rosalind Plowright whose voice is majestic and who can really act, which is a rarity in the opera world and a necessity in a role like this. (Paul's comment: Some operas take several hearings to become enjoyable. Not this one.)

GOOD

Priceless. A fairly predictable romantic comedy in which Audrey Tautou looks more gorgeous than I thought she could. My favorite part was her giving tips on how to bamboozle a lover. (Paul's comment: Entertaining but not particularly significant.)

Heartbreaker. I rented this because Romain Duris has become one of my favorite actors, and it's a lot of fun. A few plot twists, so not entirely predictable.

Earth: The Biography. This five-part documentary (also known as Earth: The Power of the Planet) stars Scottish geologist Dr. Iain Stewart who travels the globe, dressed and equipped appropriately, and whose brogue is almost thick enough to be a supporting character. Each of the first four parts explains in an unusually big-picture way the role of something that helped shape our planet -- volcanoes, the atmosphere, ice and the oceans -- and I learned something significant about each of them. The fifth part debates the conventional wisdom that there must be many Earths out there in the universe. As marvelous as the subject matter and cinematography were, I sometimes found it hard to stay awake, I think because so much of Stewart's text was constructed from cookie-cutter sentences. But Paul and I had lots of fun with faux brogues. (Paul's comment: Photography was spectacular.)

Wild Pacific. I found this two-disc documentary series on the Pacific Ocean upon searching for films done by Benedict Cumberbatch, who does its narration. The cinematography is stunning and is enough reason to recommend this highly. Unfortunately, the script isn't very interesting and even contains the occasional grammatical error. (Paul's comment: But you just can't help being entertained by the spectacle.)

Fantastic Mr. Fox. I've read most of Roald Dahl's books but somehow missed this one. George Clooney does Mr. Fox's voice, and he's perfect for this glibly overconfident role, but even better are the cheesy smiles with which Mr. Fox excuses his behavior to his family members and friends. (Paul's comment: If you can get past the distraction of stop-motion animation, you'll find an interesting story with some interesting characters.)

Wind in the Willows. Paul is currently building a model of Ratty's house, so we've seen several film productions of Kenneth Grahame's book, which I've never read. I enjoyed this 2006 TV movie production that features Mark Gatiss (who plays Mycroft Holmes in Sherlock) as Rat. Bob Hoskins is great as Badger, and Matt Lucas is appropriately over-the-top as Toad. (Paul's comment: This is an interesting interpretation of a classic which has been done many times in many ways.)

Not the Messiah. This retelling of Monty Python's Life of Brian as a concert opera production was fun at times. (Paul's comment: It's a spectacular celebration of the 50th anniversary of Monty Python featuring a huge choir and orchestra in the Albert Hall in London with some wonderfully operatic/Broadway musical numbers. Wretched excess at its best.)


DIDN'T LIKE

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I don't care enough about the dwarves in Tolkien's The Hobbit to care very much about how their characters were changed for this film. (I liked Balin, who was also Bilbo's favorite, but Tolkien's Thorin is a pompous, greedy coward who does the right thing only on his deathbed. He is not a handsome action hero.) I do care deeply about the character of Gandalf, who is nearly unrecognizable in Peter Jackson's hands and would never be timid and subservient to Galadriel. Martin Freeman does an okay job of Bilbo, though I think he's much less the middle class British traditionalist than Tolkien intended. (Paul's comment: As usual Peter Jackson has taken a humble, charming story and turned it into an action-adventure spectacular bloated into being covered by three movies. This one frantically flies from one numbing action spectacle to the next with merciless intensity. Whatever happened to pacing? His studio is poised to desecrate Wind in the Willows later this year. We can expect the interpretation to be appalling.)

Noah. I'm really grateful that I was forewarned about the presence of "transformers" by a friend who saw this the day before we did, so that I didn't experience a huge disappointment within the first few minutes of the film, and instead had the pleasure of laughing out loud at the silliness of Hollywood. I enjoy watching Russell Crowe and he wouldn't be my casting choice for a religious fanatic, but he does all right. For the first time ever I enjoyed watching Jennifer Connelly; for some reason I've not liked watching her before. The special effects are entertaining, and that's the best thing I can think to say about this film. I walked out thinking about what a good film could be made about Noah. If nobody believed his dire predictions of flood and steered clear of the crazy guy building the boat. If then, when the rain began, their skepticism turned around only in time to try to hold onto the edges of the ark as it was lifted by furiously rising waters. If those inside were tormented by the cries of those dying outside, not unlike stories of those in Titanic's lifeboats. It could have been a poignant story of loss and survivor guilt. Oh well, maybe next time. (Paul's comment: It did an amazing job of walking that tightrope between impressive and ludicrous: not an easy thing to do. While the plot devices are downright unbelievable, the acting was good enough to make you almost believe them. It cleverly dealt with the issue of carnivores having to eat their prey, as well as manure galore, by putting the critters to sleep for their sojourn. But it did not deal with the inevitability of beasts and humans having to go forth and multiply through the miracle of incest. Great special effects (ho hum). Not a "see it in a theatre" level movie but worth a wait to see it from Netflix.)

Legend. Intriguing set design, and the most amazing opposite of character development, what fellow Monty Python fans might join me in calling "undergoing a total personality change.". That is, each character says at some point during this film, "Definitely A. On second thought, Not A." I feel bad about knocking this film, as it's one of Paul's favorites for its set designs. (Paul's comment: I do love the artwork that went into this film but the dialogue and story line are embarrassingly childish and hippy-dippy.)

The Princess and the Frog. I hardly remember this, it was so Disney-fied that the story was almost beside the point. This could've been good with more authentic New Orleans style and music. (Paul's comment: So far the Disney Princess Machine has pandered to other ethnic groups (Chinese with Mulan, Native American with Pocahontas, Arab with Aladdin) and Europeans (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Brave and Snow White) and now Southern African-American with The Princess and the Frog. As a native New Orleanian, I was pleased to see my city's unique culture displayed but embarrassed by seeing my town so patronized.)


REPLAYS AND TV SERIES

Master and Commander. I saw this film in the theatre when it first came out because Russell Crowe was gorgeous, and I remember enjoying Paul Bettany even more. I gave Paul the DVD for his birthday, and this time around I understood the story much better, thanks largely to Paul's expert commentary. I really wish there was a sequel. (Paul's comment: The film is cobbled together from parts of Patrick O'Brian's nine-book series which is so historically authentic in speech, habits and nautical terminology that you almost have to have a dictionary to get through a single page. About as close as you could get to the experience of serving on a British war ship in 1802.)

Rommel. So far we've seen only two episodes of this documentary series on Erwin Rommel, and I would say it's well done but in an unusual way. Episode 1 is essentially the whole story, enlivened by interviews with Germans who knew him personally. Episode 2 focuses on a single pivotal battle, El Alamein, relying even more heavily on the interviews, which I find far more interesting than the footage and voiceovers. We don't yet know how the rest of the series will look, but I assume that each episode will focus on a particular battle or aspect of Rommel's career or character. (Paul's comment: It's the story of a decent fellow trying to be a good soldier and stay out of politics only to realize too late that he's working for a pack of delusional criminals.)

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